David Lowe: The Lowedown

It was a pretty decent Saturday, wasn't it? An excellent result against your fiercest rivals, a day out for debutant Roy O'Donovan  and was that a smile of satisfaction I saw sneaking across coach Ernie Merrick's face?

I’ll wager there would have been a large grin on the dial of Herald scribe James Gardiner, who went with the Jets’ Irish striker as the headline act, and front-page photo for the Herald’s season preview liftout, which appeared on game day. I should have let him have my bet for the Junction TAB punters’ club! 

FIRST IMPRESSION: Newcastle opened their season with an emphatic 5-1 win against arch-rivals Central Coast. Picture: Darren Pateman, AAP

FIRST IMPRESSION: Newcastle opened their season with an emphatic 5-1 win against arch-rivals Central Coast. Picture: Darren Pateman, AAP

It took rampaging Roy all of 38 minutes to send Jets fans into ecstasy, silence their Mariners counterparts, and set Newcastle on their way to the top of the A-league ladder. I write that line with a wry smile on my face, channelling young Normie at the Parthenon milk bar, in Bob Hudson's time-honoured Newcastle Song. “Don’t you ever let a chance go by, oh Lord, don’t you ever let a chance go by.” 

Happily, Merrick gave an honest assessment of what had transpired, acknowledging the efforts of his players, but noting that the scoreline didn't really reflect the nature of the contest.

That was my original impression, and any concerns I had about perhaps detracting from the result were allayed by Merrick's assessment, and an assortment of TV pundits, who all seemed to read the match in a similar light.

Anyone who has read this column over a number of years (the medals are in the post) would know I’m a great believer in adopting a style that suits your players, and having another plan when the opposition stymies your initial efforts, and the Jets certainly did that on Saturday.

I'm a great believer in adopting a style that suits your players, and having another plan when the opposition stymies your initial efforts, and the Jets certainly did that on Saturday.

The Mariners were never really out of the contest, until the fourth goal at least, as the match statistics suggest, but their slight territorial advantage and significant superiority in the possession, pass completion and accuracy, and corners-won column, proved ineffective on the day.

As I often opine, it’s not how, but how many. 

Merrick's insistence on playing forward quickly and effectively whenever possible, the obvious pace and power in the Jets’ front-third options in counter-attacking situations, and the Mariners’ attempts to play a high defensive line, were a potent cocktail on the day.

Can you expect that to happen every weekend?

Of course not. Teams will analyse opponents’ strengths quickly and make tactical appraisal and adjustments, but the good news for the Jets was the cameo provided by marquee man Ronny Vargas.

Mobile enough, and clever enough to recognise that flowing, and rapid transition would carry this day, he facilitated that process.

But he also showed with some clever touches he may well be able to influence games enough by changing tempo, and direction in midfield.

A work in progress no doubt, as he adjusts to his teammates and Australian football, but the initial signs were most promising. And he can add that all-important variety to Newcastle’s game. A result worth considered celebration, with bigger mountains to climb.

Let's hope that I, we , the nation’s football fans, even those who just fancy a party overseas, are feeling the same way about 10pm on Tuesday.

Hopefully by then the Socceroos will have beaten Syria, in regular time please, to advance to the final stage of a long qualification process for Russia 2018 . 

The importance and magnitude of Tuesday’s contest cannot be overstated, in terms of financial reward, promotional leverage and media coverage for the code. 

The form guide, and Australia’s impressive home record in the qualifiers, suggest that we should get through this match and this stage, but I’ve got to admit I’m feeling a tad nervous.

Maybe it’s the memory of Iran, 2-0 up at home, with an away goal (in a 1-1 draw) in the bank, and the devastating finale to that match, with I believe a more talented side than the current edition.

Perhaps the award of the very soft, late penalty to Syria in the first leg is nagging away in the subconscious as a potentially pivotal moment in the tie?

It's a big, big moment in the career of many of the players, and indeed for coach Ange Postecoglou. He has a number of big decisions to make.

A few months ago I had the pleasure of interviewing him at the annual Men of Football dinner at Surf House, and a more genial, honest and engaging guest you'd struggle to find.

He was forthright, confident and assured, and happy to pose for more photographs than a David Jones Santa Claus. You couldn't help but leave the venue bullish about the challenges ahead for the Socceroos.

Those in attendance will remember Postecoglou emphasising that he wouldn't change his philosophy regardless of results or opinion, so it's fair to say the Aussies will be positive and proactive, despite recent setbacks.

I am not so sure it will be a gung-ho approach as suggested by some sections of the media, though !

It would be fantastic to imagine a demolition job, game over by half-time, but Syria are a resilient and talented group, and I'm thinking there will be a point in the contest where game management will become equally as important as football philosophy.

Onwards and upwards lads. Bring on Panama or Honduras.